- A plurality of US troops viewed President Donald Trump favorably, according to a recent Military Times poll. But there were significant divides within the ranks. A considerable number of respondents also said white nationalism was a significant concern.
Nearly one-third of US troops polled by Military Times said they saw white nationalism as a threat to national security, more so than hotspots like Syria or Afghanistan.
The poll – which was conducted about a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia – found that almost one-quarter of US troops had seen examples of white nationalism within the service.
Almost 42% of non-white servicemembers said they had personally experienced instances of white nationalism in the military, while just 18% of white respondents said the same.
“US protests movements” and “civil disobedience” were listed among the choices for potential threats, but they were selected far less often than white nationalism. However, according to Military Times, about 5% of respondents complained that groups like Black Lives Matter were not included among the choices for threats to national security.
Black Lives Matter, a generally amorphous protest movement, is generally aimed at raising awareness about state violence against black people and systemic racism.
Others made explicit defenses of white nationalists, saying they weren’t terrorists and distinguishing them from racists more generally.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents also said they’d support calling up the National Guard or reserves to address civil unrest like that seen in Charlottesville in August, when white supremacists clashed with counterprotestors, one of whom was killed by a car driven by a man who had protested with a white-supremacist group. (A recruiter for one of the white-supremacists groups present was a member of the Marine Corps, drawing a rebuke from the Corps’ commandant.)
The US military, which was segregated until 1948, has a history of right-wing extremism in its ranks. A 2006 Southern Poverty Law Center report found “thousands” of such extremists in uniform, while a 2008 FBI report found 200 neo-Nazis with military training.
Trump has been accused of giving tacit support to right-wing extremist groups, but Trump himself has said he condemns extremism in all forms.
The troops polled by Military Times also had generally mixed views of Trump, though there were divisions within the ranks. (The survey took place before news emerged about Trump’s handling of calls to Gold Star families.)
Roughly 44% overall viewed him favorably, while about 40% saw him unfavorably.
However, nearly 48% of enlisted troops approved of the president, while just 30% of officers felt the same. More than half of officers viewed the president unfavorably. When it came to Trump’s military policies specifically, 55% of those questioned viewed them favorably; only 26% saw them unfavorably.
While his standing among troops has likely been burnished by some of his policies – like boosting spending and reducing executive-branch input in battlefield decision-making – he has faced public criticism on some initiatives, like raising the budget and expanding US involvement in Afghanistan.
Trump’s decision to bar transgender troops from serving openly was widely criticized, but among troops it was generally viewed favorably – 53% supported and 35% disapproved of it. The Pentagon is currently doing a six-month review of the military’s policies on transgender servicemembers.
The poll was conducted in September and included responses from 1,131 active-duty troops – 86% male and 14% female; 76% self-identifying as white and 9% as African-American. The margin of error was about 3 percentage points.